Defining Science Fiction: A Writing Assignment

For the first paper of my summer SF class, I had them think about what we mean when we say “science fiction.”  Here’s the paper assignment (for anyone playing along at home):

For the first paper, you will defend a definition of science fiction by using details from your reading.  This essay requires you to use ONE of the stories we’ve read and two outside short essays from popular journalism.

1) Read the two online essays, Quentin Cooper’s BBC article and Charlie Jane Anders’ compilation of famous definitions.

2) Pick one of the definitions on Anders’s list.  Consider how it might or might not support Cooper’s assertion that we cannot “unambiguously” portray science fiction.  You will ultimately agree or disagree with Cooper at some point in your text.

3) Select one of the stories we’ve read on or prior to August 13th.  Use it to provide support for the definition you chose.

Your thesis should be something along the lines of “<PERSON X>’s definition is strongest because it incorporates <ideas x or y>, as seen in the <STORY X>”. Your thesis should not be your own proposed, synthesized definition.

The list of stories they could use included:

  • Poe’s “Mellonta Tauta”
  • Hawthorne’s “Rappaccini’s Daughter”
  • Wells’s “The Star”
  • Forster’s “The Machine Stops”
  • Stone’s “Conquest of Gola”
  • Moore’s “Shambleau”
  • Weinbaum’s “A Martian Odyssey”
  • Simak’s “Desertion”
  • Sargent’s “Gather Blue Roses”
  • Waldrop’s “Heirs of the Perisphere”
  • Bisson’s “They’re Made Out of Meat”

Feel free to write your own 3-page response (but keep ’em to yourself.  I’ve graded enough of them, delightful though they were). 😉

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